How to Play Slide Guitar and Get a Good Tone

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By Guitar Pick Reviews

The sound of a guitar slide can be haunting, dirty, smooth, or brutal, but it’s always a unique sound that you couldn’t get from a guitar otherwise.
Playing slide guitar takes a lot of work, and if you’re just starting out, you’ve probably realized that you may not have a great tone for a long time. Still, there are a few things you can focus your practice on to develop your technique quickly.

Here are some tips for getting a great tone using a guitar slide in any style.

Consider the material of the slide

Different slides have different properties. Glass slides will be very smooth, ceramic slides may have a bit of a dulled, quiet sound, while chrome guitar slides are more full and brass slides have a very bright attack. Try out a few different guitar slides to see what you like, and what material best compliments your playing style. Don’t just buy the first guitar slide that you see. Also, consider whether you’ll need a half-length or full-length slide. This will depend on whether you plan on using an open guitar tuning, and whether you want to use the slide for most of your playing or just for solos.

playing slide guitar with a banana
Not every material is good for a slide. Glass – yes. Banana – No.

A gentle press goes a long way

Don’t press down hard. You don’t play with a guitar slide like you’d play with your fingers; the weight of the slide will be enough to get a good tone out of your guitar strings. When playing slide guitar, you don’t want to press down hard enough that the slide comes into contact with the frets of the guitar. If you do that, you’ll get a nasty, dissonant sound that nobody will really appreciate. Light pressure is extremely important.

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Slide guitar requires higher action

Consider having your guitar set up for playing slide. You may need to raise the action on your guitar, especially if your action is very low, in order to keep the strings away from the frets. Have a professional guitar repair center do this if you haven’t done it before, as they’ll need to set the intonation properly and make sure that there isn’t too much pressure on any part of your guitar. If you want to purely play slide guitar, it makes sense to have a guitar set up for it.

Accuracy is king

Practice bringing the slide directly up to the fret. When you play with your fingers, you press down between two frets. In slide playing, you’ll bring the slide up to the fret you want. Otherwise, you’ll sound out of tune. Practice singing a line, then playing it on your guitar to get a feel for where the slide needs to be to cue a note, and listen to the great slide guitar players like George Harrison or Muddy Waters.

Do you have any other tips for playing the slide guitar? Post your thoughts in our comments section below. If you liked this post, head over to our blog, there’s a lot more where that came from!

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